A former Magistrate has been given a final chance to put his Vt310 million claim against the Republic, Chief Justice, Chief Magistrate and the Registrar of the Supreme in order.
The Supreme Court struck out former Magistrate, Waltersai Ahelmhalahlah’s application for default judgment in his claim for damages and termed his pleading for damages as “vexatious or frivolous”.
Ahelmhalahlah was suspended in between 2012 and 2013 after being charged with two criminal offences.
The Supreme Court found him not guilty of one count and discharged him without conviction but subject to conditions on a second count.
He claimed he was told by the Chief Justice to resign from this position.
The Supreme Court stated that the Chief Magistrate has also written to the Judicial Service Commission after receiving reports from the Principal of College d’ Isangel on Tanna where Ahelmhalahlah was posted.
The report concerns complaints from students and parents alleging that the former Magistrate has been seen harassing some of their female students.
The Claimant amplifies his allegations saying that the letter damaged his reputation and destroyed his career.
He raised allegations against the Chief Magistrate and the Registrar of the Supreme Court that they made an illegal decision to dismiss him.
“The claim is structured in such a way as to allege it was the Chief Magistrate’s “defamation” that caused his suspension,” Supreme Court Judge, Richard Chetwynd stated in this written judgment published on PacLII.
“The Claimant even suggests that hearing was “part of the plan” to get rid of him.
“He denigrates Spear J’s decision set out above saying it is all part of the conspiracy to remove him from office.”
He accuses the Chief Magistrate, the Chief Registrar and the Chief Justice of negligence alleging that they did not obey the law, that they did not properly check the law, that they failed to enforce, interpret, follow and act upon the law, that they owed the Claimant a duty of care and that they breached that duty of care and were careless or negligent.
A breakdown of the Vt310 million claim is as follows;
“The damages include, general damages for libel and defamation (100 million vatu); Compensatory damages for libel and defamation (10 million vatu); aggravating (sic) damages for libel and defamation (10 million vatu); exemplary/punitive damages for libel and defamation; compensatory damages for unjustified constructive dismissal (20 million vatu); general damages for negligent (sic) (100 million vatu); exemplary or punitive damages for negligent actions (20 million vatu); aggravated damages for negligent cost ((20 million vatu); general damages for humiliation, injury to emotional state , distress, stress and anxious for defamation, dismissal and negligent costs (30 million vatu); severance allowance; interest at 10 percent per year; costs on full solicitor and client or indemnity basis; an order that the First respondent be held responsible for all the costs in this matter on the behave (sic) of the four defendants and finally any other order the Court deems just and proper.”
Justice Chetwynd stated that the former Magistrate has not taken into account the question of qualified privilege of the Chief Magistrate.
“The duties of Chief Magistrate must, as a matter of common sense, include the writing of reports and notifications to the Chief Justice and Judicial Service Commission about subordinate judicial officers and members of staff.
“Those reports and notifications would, as a matter of law, generally attract qualified privilege.
“The Claimant does not accept that view of the law and says qualified privilege only attaches to judicial proceedings.
“He has been told that his claim for damages is hopelessly misconceived.
“He does not accept that and continues to make applications for default or summary judgment.
“He does not accept there is a link between the Chief Justice’s intervention and the complaint he lodged against the Chief Magistrate for criminal defamation.
“He does not accept that the Judicial Service Commission has the right to advise His Excellency the President about behaviour which might not be acceptable from a judicial officer and that His Excellency has the right to suspend a judicial officer from duty in an appropriate case.
“There is no doubt that a court can strike out a proceeding on the grounds that there is no reasonable cause of action or that it is frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process.”
The Supreme Court noted the former Magistrate is a qualified lawyer but states he is “clearly out of his depth in this matter”.
“The claim for damages is hopelessly misconceived.
“The claim for negligent breach of some supposed duty of care cannot succeed, the evidence adduced by the Claimant does not support his case and the whole edifice is premised on the barest of reliable facts.
“I fully appreciate that none of the evidence adduced has been tested in cross examination but much of what the Claimant says in sworn statements and pleadings is clearly contradictory and/or just plain illogical.
“Most, if not all of what the Claimant seeks to rely on in his case is not evidenced in alleged or even established facts.”
According to the judgment, the court has treated Ahelmhalahlah as a lay person and given him chance to seek professional advice but he has not done so.
“He has demonstrated that although he has legal training he is not capable of properly drawing up pleadings. He should therefore obtain professional advice.”
Ahelmhalahlah is granted leave to further amend his claim which he must do so and file and serve his Further Amended Claim by close of business on 5th May 2017.
The Chief Justice, Republic, Chief Magistrate and the Court Registrar are also ordered to file and serve a Defence to the Further Amended Claim by close of business on 2nd June 2017.
The case has been listed for a conference in Chambers on Thursday 15th June 2017.
“If the Claimant does not file and serve a Further Amended Claim by 5th May, or at all, he will be required to show cause why the proceedings should not be struck out.”